Bishop Dan Edwards of Nevada responds to a recent blog post about the suicide of mainline churches that has been making the rounds.
My real problem is not really with Hedges’ suggestion that “the liberal church,” by which he means mainline denominations, have committed suicide by being too conservative. I object to his underlying premise. It is that we are fatally flawed by the very fact that we are the Church. He cites Paul Tillich to the effect that all institutions, including the Church, are inherently demonic, and Reinhold Niebuhr who claimed that churches were inherently morally weak while individuals alone have the spine to be moral. Hedges thereby implies that the Church should commit suicide in order to set us each free to live the moral and meaningful lives we would live if we were solitary individuals on desert islands. If I read him wrong I apologize, but if that is not what he is saying, I assure you plenty of people in the Church are.
I have spent long stretches in solitude wrestling with my inner demons. I was quite disappointed to discover that I am every bit as spiritually muddled on my own as in a group. Christianity has known that for a long time. See, The Lives Of The Desert Fathers. The heroic individual I thought I was (because Tillich and Niebuhr told me I was) was invented by Soren Kierkegaard as a philosophical construct in the 19th Century before he died on a Copenhagen street refusing the sacraments of the Church he did not deem moral enough to comfort him. 20thCentury thinkers from Tillich and Niebuhr to Neil Diamond extolled that solitary man.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAtwg1BwKek
The problem is: that solitary man does not exist. We do not give birth to ourselves, manufacture our own DNA, speak only to ourselves in our own language, drive on roads we have made, read books we have written. We live in the human milieu. Other people influence us as we influence them. Plato defined “being” as the power to influence others and the capacity to be influenced by them. To separate ourselves from community would in Plato’s’ terms be to destroy our very being. That would be suicide.
We make meaning in relationship. Ubuntu theology says so. See, Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu. http://www.amazon.com/Reconciliation-Ubuntu-Theology-Desmond-Tutu/dp/0829818332/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1454010623&sr=8-1&keywords=ubuntu+theology Object-relations psychoanalysis and systems psychology say so. Aristotle said so. “Man is a political animal.” Politics.John Donne said so. “No man is an island.” In Democracy In America, Alexis de Tocqueville said our social and political interactions were necessary in order for us to live well and grow into better people. The New Testament says so, particularly in Paul’s metaphor of The Body of Christ.